Forward Gabriela Hebert looks to initiate the offence. (Courtney Strouthos / McGill Tribune)

Basketball: Buoyed by Charest’s return, Martlets sweep Citadins

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With a mere two weeks remaining before the RSEQ playoffs, the McGill Martlets (10-2)  squeezed by the UQAM Citadins (7-5) in a 62-56 statement win Thursday evening at Love Competition Hall.

The victory—the Martlets’ ninth of the season—saw the return of starting point-guard Francoise Charest, who had missed two weeks due to a lower-body injury. McGill followed up Thursday’s performance with a 65-56 win at UQAM on Saturday, gaining a narrow two-point lead atop the conference ahead of the second-place Concordia Stingers.

Contrary to their normally dominant starts, the Martlets looked lost out of the gate as UQAM shot a blistering 56.25 per cent in the first-quarter. The Citadins attacked early on, swinging the ball for open shots and punishing McGill on defence. The Martlets had no answers for UQAM as the visitors closed out the first-quarter with an 11-point lead.

“They had 24 points in the first-quarter,” said Head Coach Ryan Thorne. “We were a little taken aback [by their full-court attack.] It’s hard to prepare for their pressure—they’re really good at it. So I think we were a little tentative early to start.”

The Martlets were plagued by a pesky UQAM defence whenever they had the ball in their hands. Sophomore forward Mariam Sylla was frequently taken out of the action by the Citadins’ Jessica Lubin, forcing her to look for the other Martlets on offence. Sylla finished the half with an uncharacteristic five points on 1-5 shooting from the field. As a result, McGill went into the locker room with a nine-point deficit: 34-25.

“[Lubin] is really athletic and she’s good in the post, and I know that she’s a really good rebounder also,” Sylla said. “My goal was not to always try and find a way to score on her because I knew the help was coming. So I was just there to make my teammates contribute as much as possible when they came to double me.”

A markedly different team started the third quarter. Charest had been out for two weeks and looked noticeably rusty in the first-half, but soon began to dictate the pace of the offence as she settled into the flow of the game.

“The past two weeks have been hard because I wasn’t playing, but I practiced this week and I felt great,” Charest said. “There was not [as much] pain, so I felt ready for the game.”

Thorne and Charest have been together for five years now, and Thorne’s reliance on her ability to run the Martlet offence is obvious.

“[Charest] is our team leader [and] the quarterback of [our] team,” Thorne said. “She controls the pace. The girls feel more confident when she’s on the floor with them. And as the coach, you feel more confident knowing you’ve got your team leader out there. She’s an extension of me.”

The Martlets managed to close out the third-quarter on a 4-0 run, entering the fourth frame with a narrow 45-43 advantage. Charest netted two three-pointers to start the last quarter, and McGill proceeded to finish the game on top, 62-56.

If the Martlets are to make a run at one more RSEQ Championship, they must learn to adjust when Sylla is shut-down on offence—as she was in the first half of the contest against UQAM Thursday evening.

Thorne acknowledged the issue after the game.

“No matter what, we’re still going to play through Mariam,” Thorne said. “We’re going to play inside-out. People are going to collapse, help off her, and then we’re going to get good opportunities on the perimeter.”

The Martlets have four games remaining on their schedule before the RSEQ playoffs. Their next game will be on Thursday, Feb. 13 at 6:00 p.m. against the Laval Rouge et Or at Love Competition Hall.